by James Quigley - a member of 5G Awareness Inishowen and it’s sub group Buncrana Garda Mast Action Group
Two members of 5G Awareness Inishowen were forced to stop protesting by Gardaí near Scoil Íasagán polling station around 7.30 pm Friday May 24. Protesters were distributing leaflets and collecting signatures on a petition against Government plans to license a US private company, Shared Access Ltd, to install 3G and 4G, Electric Magnetic Frequency (EMF) equipment on the existing Garda mast in Buncrana, Co Donegal.
I was informed by Gardaí that they received a complaint from a member of the public and that under Section 147 of the Electoral Act 1992 they told us to remove our posters and leave. Despite not knowing the legislation, I informed the Gardaí that I thought they were wrong since we were not canvassing or soliciting for any candidate, had nothing to do with the election and were standing in a private churchyard car park well away from the polling station entrance.
Earlier that morning when we first arrived at the polling station I informed the station manager about what we intended to do. He told us to stand well away from the polling station. Later he informed me that a member of the public complained to him about us.
I know it is innuendo and speculation about who complained but to me the complaint and indeed the reaction seem petty even vindictive. It is ironical that they complain about us interfering with their democratic right to vote while the community is being denied access to what I would call a more fundamental right - to object against something that will damage our health. The Garda mast is exempted from the planning process and if allowed to continue will affect the whole area.
I’m not sure what is meant by interfering or the curtilage but in my opinion we were not stopping anyone voting or putting pressure on anyone. In fact we were being very polite, quiet just two people distributing leaflets and asking people to sign our petition. It was a very friendly affair. But clearly it was too much for someone. Most people were happy to sign and mostly supportive. However, occasionally, there was an odd dour look or sour comment.
I have since looked up the relevant section 147 and it seems to me that the Gardaí interpretation is very narrow or downright wrong and that the overall emphasis is on canvassing, promoting candidates or influencing voters. I don’t think we were interfering, obstructing or impeding anyone voting.
Electoral Act 1992
147.—(1) A person shall not interfere with or obstruct or impede an elector going to or coming from or in the vicinity of or in a polling station.
(2) During the period commencing 30 minutes before the time appointed for the taking of a poll at an election, including a poll which has been adjourned under section 107 , and ending 30 minutes after the close of the said poll, a person shall not, in or in the curtilage of a polling station or in any place within 100 metres of such station, for the purpose of promoting the interest of a political party or furthering the candidature of a candidate or candidates or soliciting votes for a candidate or candidates or for any contrary purpose, do any or all of the following things:
(a) loiter or congregate with other persons;
(b) attempt to induce, by any means whatsoever, an elector to vote for a candidate or candidates or vote in a particular way or refrain from voting;
(c) display or distribute any notice, sign or poster (other than a notice, sign or poster displayed by the returning officer) or card, circular or other document relating to the election; or
(d) use or cause to be used any loud-speaker or other public address mechanism to broadcast matter relating to the election.
(3) For the purpose of this section, a polling station shall be deemed to include all parts of the building and any land within the curtilage of the building in which the polling station is situate and the distance referred to in subsection (2) shall be measured from any entrance to the polling station or to the curtilage thereof.
(4) A person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2) shall be guilty of an offence.